Tiffany’s debut novel attempts to reconcile the differences between art and science in a fictional narrative punctuated by the precision of a scientific experiment. This results in an awkward hybrid that satisfies neither category fully.
The novel is set during the inter-war period in Australia. Jean Finnegan is part of the ‘Better Farming’ train’s quest to educate the country about all things arable. Reminiscent of a Big Brother style government, their mission is to increase productivity based on a scientific approach to farming that must be adopted by all. The human focus lies in Jean’s growing relationship with soil specialist Robert Pettergree. They embark on married life in the Australian outback attempting to cultivate a barren land. Gradually their idealism is eroded as they suffer many natural disasters, and personal disaster in Jean’s miscarriage. These individual tragedies are echoed on a global scale, with the world on the brink of war.
The failure of the ‘Better Farming’ train’s quest to tame the environment with science does pose interesting questions about the futility of man’s attempt to control nature. However, the central relationship between Jean and Robert often seems unrealistic, failing to provide an outlet from the overriding agricultural theme, which makes this unlikely to be a big hit with students.